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Good For Kids

For A Date

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This picture is from 2009. That kid wanted to feed the fish so took a step back to let him enjoy the opportunity.
Photo Credit: guyonthego


77522 Overseas Highway Islamorada, FL 33036
Generally open 8:00am-6:00pm
305-664-8070 30 minutes or less
February 2012 All year
$0-9 Islamorada Florida
Website Entertainment Roadside Attractions
First review
Remember to bring your camera; courage is optional. Robbie’s is a marina, shopping market, boat rental business and tour operator located in Islamorada in the Florida Keys. There is also a restaurant on site called the Hungry Tarpon. The facilities, staff and environment are casual and low-key in keeping with the spirit of the Florida Keys. While boating and tours are the main businesses at Robbie’s, this review is focused on another activity - tarpon feeding. The tarpon here are wild fish and are free to come and go as they choose. They tend to congregate under and around the docks. Feeding them costs $1 for dock access and $3 for a bucket of bait fish.

The Tarpon feeding story began with a fish nicknamed Scarface that around 20 years ago was spotted near the dock and in bad shape from a large jaw injury. Robbie brought the tarpon to the dock and stitched up the wound. He then placed it in a tank where it was fed and nursed back to health. Once the fish had recovered it was released back into the ocean. However, Scarface enjoyed Robbie’s food and hospitality well enough to keep coming back. Other tarpon soon joined him, and tarpon feeding became popular. By the way, tarpon are big fish. Adults can reach 8 feet in length and weigh over 250 pounds. Since they have tiny teeth, more like a jaw bone, tarpon swallow their prey whole. Tarpon are prized for fishing, but are not eaten.

There were actually two visits to Robbie’s. One took place at dusk in 2009 and another around midday in 2012. The 2009 visit was better because it was warmer and water conditions were clearer. While the tarpon can be fed year-round and throughout the day, they tend to be more active when the water is warmer, and feeding them is more enjoyable when water conditions are clear. During the 2009 visit, an excited kid ran out onto the dock to share his tarpon feeding insights, so he was awarded the fish bucket and the privilege of showing the tourists how the locals do it. Depending on how brave you are, and brave is the right word here, you can dangle a bait fish down at or below water level and wait till a tarpon launches itself with mouth agape. When a large fish lunges like an underwater missile for your hand, the temptation to pullback is overwhelming. Those who can maintain their position without flinching truly have nerves of steel. They also may have a tarpon wrapped around a forearm before it releases and takes the bait fish. For those who were more fainthearted and sane, tossing the bait fish into the water sufficed as a way to interact with the tarpon. The tarpon moved surprisingly quickly and were highly agile. Some other fish and occasional pelicans also showed up for feedings, but tarpon were the main deal here. Feeding tarpon at Robbie’s was a cool experience and should appeal to all tastes. It’s affordable too so works well for those on a budget. While Robbie’s is closer to Key Largo than Key West, if you are driving down to Key West from south Florida, it’s a good place to stop, stretch your legs and meet some tarpon up-close and personal. Remember to bring your camera; courage is optional.
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